Navajo Nation Nabs $420,000 To Expand Broadband in Utah

The Navajo Tribal Utility Authority (NTUA) is slated to receive more than half a million dollars in Covid-relief funding from the state of Utah. The funding will help the NTUA expand fiber and wireless access to part of the 27,425 square mile Navajo Nation, improving access at Navajo anchor institutions and some of the nation’s 173,000 residents. 

The NTUA was created in 1959 by Navajo leaders frustrated by the fact that regional utilities had failed to provide uniform electricity services to the Navajo people. Still, over 60 years later and not only is the failure to electrify marginalized communities still a problem, the organization is leveraging its experience in that fight to expand broadband access as well. 

Project Timeline: 30 months

To help fix the problem, the Utah Broadband Center, run by the Governor’s Office of Economic Opportunity, recently doled out $420,732 in broadband grants to the NTUA. Combined with $140,244 in matching funds from the NTUA, the project will bring a combination of fiber and wireless to 473 households currently unserved in Montezuma Creek, Utah. 

The grants were part of $10 million in Covid relief funding recently awarded by the Utah Broadband Center and made possible by the American Rescue Plan Act.

“From the time they sign the contract with the state, they have 30 months to complete the project,” Rebecca Dilg, Director of the Utah Broadband Center, told ILSR. “We are still working out the details of the contracts with all grant recipients.”

“We are pleased that there are substantial efforts being done by the Navajo Nation to bring high-speed Internet to the tribal lands in Utah and across the entire Navajo Nation,” Dilg added. 

Last December, the NTUA received an additional $1.8 million in funding to deliver a combination of fiber and fixed wireless (LTE hardware operating in the 2.65 and 3.65 GHz  frequency bands) to the Teec Noc Pos community and surrounding area of the Navajo Reservation in Apache County, Arizona and San Juan County, New Mexico.

The Utah project gets underway as utilities from ten different states are working to expand electrical access across the Navajo Nation via the Light Up Navajo III (LUN III) initiative, which will connect 300 families’ homes to the electric grid for the first time.

More Investment Needed

While Covid relief and the Infrastructure bill are expected to deliver an historic influx of funding to expand broadband to Native Nations, Tribal leaders say the funding still won’t be enough to completely shore up access to Tribal communities historically overlooked by past broadband expansion efforts. 

NTUA Wireless is currently hard at work with various chapters on the freshly-funded broadband buildout, NTUA spokeswoman Deenise Becenti told ILSR. 

“Specifically the team is completing the engineering design,” she said. “When the design is complete, it will be submitted for Navajo Nation for land-use permitting and approval. It is our hope that the Navajo Nation review and approval be completed within a short time frame in order for the project to proceed.”